The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Flying High on the Tax Payers

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


I am one who appreciates our military and wants it to be strong and effective.  Under our Constitution, one of the main purposes of the federal government is to “provide for the common defense.”  But that does not mean that Congress and the Defense Department cannot root out wasteful spending.  Here is a good example of a problem that represents how difficult it is to cut the size of our government and why the sequester provides one way to get the job done.

A few weeks ago, David Ignatius wrote a column in the Washington Post entitled “No Clipping These Wings.”  It is about how the Air Force wanted to retire several C-130s, a military transport plane.  He said, “For an illustration of why the federal government has become so unmanageable, consider the Air Force’s attempt last year to cut its budget by retiring unneeded warplanes.  This sensible policy ran into a shredder — largely because of the political clout of the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve.”

Ignatius writes how governors and Members of Congress from both political parties united to stop the loss of the C-130s and other planes.  These actions prevented the Air Force from making the cuts it thought were best for the country and our national defense.

The numbers (your tax dollars) broke down this way according to Ignatius.  The Air Force proposed to cut a range of 223 aircraft in 2013 that included 65 C-130 planes.  About half of the C-130s are used within National Guard and Air Force Reserved units so are liked by governors.  The Air Force felt the planes had been suitable for use in Iraq and Afghanistan but wanted to focus more on future enemies.  The Air Force also thought the reserve forces had become too inflated after several years of war, increasing to 35 percent of total force strength from 25 percent in 1990.

Of course, the decision to make these cuts created quite a kerfuffle, Congress got into the act and several of the planes were not retired and reserve forces were not cut.  The end result according to Ignatius was “three of the five A-10 squadrons slated to be cut were restored; most of the planned cuts of C-5As were restored; and 32 of the C-130 and C-27 transporters were saved.”  As for the reserves, Ignatius notes the, "congressional revision tilts the overall cuts toward active-duty forces — i.e., the folks who are supposed to keep the country safe.  The Air Force had originally proposed that by fiscal 2017, it would cut 7,400 Guard and reserve positions and 4,200 active-duty slots.  Instead, in the congressional version, the active-duty forces will be slashed by 6,100, while the Guard will lose only 1,400 billets and the reserves will lose only 1,900."

Mr. Ignatius quoted Maj. Gen. Mike Holmes, who evaluates Air Force planning.  Holmes said, “If you reduce our budget but don’t allow us to reduce forces or reduce deployment around the world, how do you do that?”

According to Ignatius, the governors and Congress realized that the ultimate outcome was not a good one and created – you guessed it – another commission.  The commission’s role will be to figure out the proper force structure for the Air Force.  It will be similar to the Base Closure and Realignment Commission that was created years ago to figure out what military bases should close and which should remain open.

Ignatius’s last two paragraphs sum up perfectly the problems that the Air Force, and frankly our nation faces as we try to get a handle on a government that has grown too big and expensive.

If you’re a governor, you want your own C-130,” explains Janine Davidson, a member of the commission and a former C-17 pilot and deputy assistant secretary of defense.  She says the commission will weigh arguments that the reserve forces have cost advantages and serve regional needs.  “It makes sense if you’re a governor, but if you’re Air Force chief of staff you have to think about the global mission.”

Somehow, it’s that last part — the national interest — that tends to get lost in today’s Washington. Somebody has to start fixing a political system that doesn’t work to serve the public.

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